The important organ of the body whose chief function is to pump the blood to nourish the body cells.—Le 17:14.
The heart is made prominent in the Scriptures, being mentioned about a thousand times in one way or another. The Hebrew (lev, le·vavʹ) and Greek (kar·diʹa) words for “heart” are used by the Bible writers both literally and figuratively.
The Literal Heart. In comparatively few instances the Bible writers refer to the literal heart organ. Thus, when Jehu proceeded to shoot Jehoram “between the arms . . . the arrow came out at his heart.”—2Ki 9:24; see also Ex 28:30.
The Figurative Heart. In the great majority of its occurrences in the Scriptures, the word “heart” is used figuratively. It is said to stand for “the central part in general, the inside, and so for the interior man as manifesting himself in all his various activities, in his desires, affections, emotions, passions, purposes, his thoughts, perceptions, imaginations, his wisdom, knowledge, skill, his beliefs and his reasonings, his memory and his consciousness.”—Journal of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1882, p. 67.
So, in the Scriptures the figurative heart is not confined to being the seat of affection and motivation, nor is it limited to the intellect. “Among the Semites . . . all that was peculiar to man, in the category of feelings as well as intellect and will, was attributed to the heart.” It is “the sum total of the interior man as opposed to the flesh, which is the exterior and tangible man.”—The Metaphorical Use of the Names of Parts of the Body in Hebrew and in Akkadian, by E. Dhorme, Paris, 1963, pp. 113, 114, 128 (in French).
Not mere outward appearances but what a person really is inside is what counts with God, who is an examiner of hearts. (Pr 17:3; 24:12; Ps 17:3; 1Sa 16:7) So the Scriptures counsel: “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart [the whole inner man], for out of it are the sources of life.” (Pr 4:23) And Christian wives are urged to give primary attention, not to external adornment, but to “the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.”—1Pe 3:3, 4.
In a number of cases in the Bible where the term “heart” occurs, it evidently focuses attention on the thinking faculties, but not in a sense that would isolate such faculties from the rest of what makes up the inner person. Moses urged the Israelites, “You must call back to your heart [“must recall to your mind,” ftn] that Jehovah is the true God.” And later he told them, “Jehovah has not given you a heart [“mind,” ftn] to know.” (De 4:39; 29:4) Showing that at times the heart, as referred to in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures, includes the intellect are instances where it is associated with “thinking” (Mt 9:4), “reasoning” (Mr 2:6), “understanding” (1Ki 3:12; Mr 6:52), and “knowledge” (Pr 15:14).
Motivation, the impelling force behind our conduct, is a further vital aspect of the inner person, as represented by the “heart.” Thus, those making contributions for the construction of the tabernacle “came, everyone whose heart impelled him.” (Ex 35:21, 26, 29; 36:2) Wicked Haman “emboldened himself” (literally, filled him as to his heart) to scheme against the Jews. (Es 7:5, ftn; Ac 5:3) Hebrews 4:12 explains that God’s word of promise, like a sharp sword, is able to “discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Jesus, too, indicated that from the heart springs the motivating force behind our conduct, whether it is good or bad. (Mt 15:19; Lu 6:45) With a view to our cultivating right motivations, the Bible warns us against allowing our dealings with others to be tainted by a desire for selfish gain (Jude 16) or permitting love of money, a craving for riches, to determine our course of life. (1Ti 6:9, 10; Pr 23:4, 5) Rather, it encourages us to cultivate genuine love for God as a basis for our service to him (1Jo 5:3; De 11:13) and self-sacrificing love as a guide in dealing with fellow believers (Joh 15:12, 13); it also encourages us to make a practice of loving others of our fellowmen as we do ourselves (Lu 10:27-37; Ga 6:10). Obviously, the cultivating of such motivations involves use of the thinking faculties.—Ps 119:2, 24, 111.
The condition of our figurative heart is reflected in our disposition, our attitude, whether proud or humble. (Pr 16:5; Mt 11:29) Our feelings and emotions are also part of that inner man. These include love (De 6:5; 1Pe 1:22), joy (De 28:47; Joh 16:22), pain and sorrow (Ne 2:2; Ro 9:2), hate (Le 19:17). Thus the heart can be “anxious” (Isa 35:4), “pierced” by affliction (Ps 109:22), ‘melted’ by fear of distresses (De 20:8). In the Christian Greek Scriptures, when the mind is mentioned along with the heart, “mind” refers to the intellect while “heart” refers to the emotions, desires, and feelings of the inner person. For example, Jesus said: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.” (Mt 22:37) He thus showed that a person’s desires, feelings, and emotions must express his love for God, but he must also express that love by the way he uses his mental faculties, as by taking in knowledge of God and Christ.—Joh 17:3.
All such functions, capabilities, emotions, and qualities are ascribed, not to the literal heart organ, but to the figurative heart as representing the total inner personality.
The Heart Can Be “Treacherous.” Adam, although perfect, let his heart be enticed; he rejected the truth and turned away from God. (See Jas 1:14, 15.) Consequently, all humans, the offspring of fallen Adam, have been conceived in sin and brought forth in error. (Ps 51:5) After the Flood, God said regarding sinful mankind in general: “The inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.”—Ge 8:21.
God told the rebellious nation of Judah: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate.” (Jer 17:9) This constitutes a serious warning that those seeking to please God must give attention not merely to what other humans see but to the kind of person they really are, the inner man. A person may have been a Christian for many years, have a fine knowledge of the Bible, and feel confident that he can safely handle any situation that may arise. Yet, although he knows full well that an act is wrong and specifically condemned by God’s law, the thoughts and desires that he has secretly cherished may entice him into sinful action.
For these reasons a Christian, though he knows the truth and may consider himself mature, must remember the treachery that his heart can display and must therefore exercise great care not to place himself in the way of temptation.—Mt 6:13; 1Co 10:8-12.
Serving With “a Complete Heart.” The literal heart must be whole to function normally, but the figurative heart can be divided. David prayed: “Unify my heart to fear your name,” suggesting that a person’s heart could be divided with regard to its affections and fears. (Ps 86:11) Such a person may be “halfhearted”—lukewarmly worshiping God. (Ps 119:113; Re 3:16) An individual can also be of “a double heart” (literally, with a heart and a heart), trying to serve two masters, or deceptively saying one thing while thinking something else. (1Ch 12:33; Ps 12:2, ftn) Jesus strongly denounced such doublehearted hypocrisy.—Mt 15:7, 8.
One seeking to please God must be neither halfhearted nor doublehearted but must serve him with a complete heart. (1Ch 28:9) This requires diligent effort in view of the heart’s being desperate and inclined to badness. (Jer 17:9, 10; Ge 8:21) Of help in maintaining a complete heart are: heartfelt prayer (Ps 119:145; La 3:41), regular study of God’s Word (Ezr 7:10; Pr 15:28), zealous participation in preaching the good news (compare Jer 20:9), and association with others whose hearts are complete toward Jehovah.—Compare 2Ki 10:15, 16.
What is meant by being in “want of heart”?
A number of times the Scriptures speak of a person’s being in “want of heart.” Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (by Koehler and Baumgartner, Leiden, 1958, p. 470) says that this means “without intelligence.” A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by William Gesenius (translated by E. Robinson, 1836, p. 517) says that such a person is “void of understanding.” “Want of heart” marks a person who is lacking good judgment or discernment. Thus, “want of heart” is contrasted with “understanding” (Pr 10:13) and “discernment.” (Pr 11:12; 15:21) In other cases the one in “want of heart” is shown to be “inexperienced,” “foolish,” lacking in wisdom. (Pr 7:7; 9:1-9, 16; 10:21) By using the term “heart,” these scriptures show that positive qualities of the whole inner person are deficient.
That the expression “want of heart” includes the idea of lacking good judgment or discernment is evident from the context in which it is used in the Scriptures. At Proverbs 6:32 the wise man says that one committing adultery “is in want of heart.” Other translations here read: “lacketh sense” (Ro), “has no sense” (RS, JB), “lacks judgment” (NIV), “is a senseless fool” (NE). The adulterer is “a senseless fool” in view of the bitter fruit of such sexual immorality. (Pr 1:2-4; 6:23-35; 7:7, 21-27) Outwardly he may appear to be a reputable person, but the inner man is seriously lacking in proper development.
Another proverb says: “A man that is wanting in heart [“lacking sense,” Ro] shakes hands [a gesture used to ratify an agreement], going full surety before his companion.” (Pr 17:18) Perhaps swayed by sentimentality, such a man enters an agreement that could well result in loss of money and serious economic hardship for him. Though he may be well-intentioned or have praiseworthy motives, he nonetheless betrays a lack of good judgment.
In contrast to being in “want of heart,” the proverbs also speak of a person’s “acquiring heart.” As Proverbs 19:8 says: “He that is acquiring heart is loving his own soul. He that is guarding discernment is going to find good.” He is a person who gives serious attention to what he really is deep down inside. He uses his mind to acquire accurate knowledge of God and of his ways; he meditates on these things and seeks to apply them. He carefully molds his desires, affections, emotions, and goals in life in harmony with what he realizes will be approved by God. So doing, he benefits himself, demonstrating that he ‘loves his own soul.’ By thus building up the inner person, he ‘guards discernment,’ because he fortifies in wholesome ways those factors that powerfully influence his own ability to think clearly and act wisely.
God’s Heart. Jehovah reveals that he has affections and emotions, the Bible describing him as having a “heart.” At the time of the Flood “he felt hurt at his heart,” regretting that men had rejected his righteous rule, making it necessary for him to turn from being their benefactor to becoming their destroyer. (Ge 6:6) By contrast, God’s “heart” ‘rejoices’ when his servants are faithful. (Pr 27:11) Such a thing as the cruel offering up of humans as burnt sacrifices, practiced by some of the deviating Israelites, never had come up into God’s heart, showing also that he could not be a God of eternal torment.—Jer 7:31; 19:5.
Center, or Midst, of a Thing. Because the literal heart is a central organ of the body, the term “heart” is at times applied to the center, or midst, of something, such as “the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:40), “the heart of the sea” (Ex 15:8; Jon 2:3), and “the heart of the big tree” (2Sa 18:14). At Deuteronomy 4:11 the expression “midheaven” literally means “the heart of the heavens.”—See NW ftn.
Prophetic. The symbolic use of “heart” figures in a prophetic way at Daniel 7:4, where the lionlike beast representing the kingdom of Babylon was made to stand on two feet and was given “the heart of a man,” that is, it no longer possessed the courageous “heart of the lion.” (2Sa 17:10) It was then defeated by the symbolic “bear,” Medo-Persia.—Da 7:5; see BEASTS, SYMBOLIC.